Monday, July 02, 2007


Bettye Johnson ©

How does a woman gain independence? Even in this 21st century, women are collectively still lagging behind in becoming self-sufficient and having the freedom of choice. There are no hard and fast rules because each woman’s life is different and unique. It may not seem unique, however under the crust of mundane daily chores there is a unique being. Just as no one has the same fingerprint, each woman has her own unique capabilities that have been hidden and suppressed.

I have no set ‘how-to’s’ for a woman. It is up to each woman to first have a desire for change. It may not come to her in her youth or even in her twenties or thirties. For some it remains suppressed. Each of us enters into this world with an agenda. Living on Planet Earth is one of the toughest challenges there is not only for women, but for men too. Men are caught up in mind-sets that are hard to throw off just as women are caught up in their programming. Some of the programming is subtle.

I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression in the last century at home because my parents did not have the money for my mother to go to the hospital. Perhaps this is a blessing. My parents were poor and we lived in Dallas, Texas. My mother did not work because ‘a woman’s place was in the home.’ My mother served my father by waiting on him ‘hand and foot.’ Every morning she would bring him the newspaper and a cup of coffee to him while he was still in bed! I grew up under a belief system that woman was put on Earth to serve man.

When I think about what my life could have been if I had never entered the Foreign Service with the U.S. State Department, I shudder to think about it. Leaving Texas at the age of 23 was the smartest move I ever made. This began my fabulous non-academic education.

Shedding the limitations of being a woman in a ‘man’s world’ has been a journey of self-discovery. By this I mean shedding one embedded belief at a time or peeling away a layer of old programming at a time. I have also had experiences with women of backbiting, jealousy and control. I realize now all of this came from their own sense of inadequacy. While working at the embassy in Tokyo, I met and married a career military man. I became a stay-at-home wife and mother. I am grateful for this experience because my husband was away two-thirds of our married life and I was able to bring up our sons the way I wanted and to be able to make decisions on my own.

My husband was an enlisted man and during his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he was given an officer’s commission. This thrust me into a position from being an almost non-entity in the military world into being the wife of an officer. Thus I was able to experience both sides of the coin. After he was promoted to the rank of Captain, we were stationed at a small Naval Air Station outside of Boston, Massachusetts. My husband was a Marine and this joint base trained the naval and marine reserves also known as ‘week-end warriors.’

I joined the Navy-Marine Officers’ Wives Club and was soon elected to fill the position of corresponding secretary. I had been in clubs before and always ended up being the corresponding secretary. I now know why. It gave me the opportunity to create and write newsletters. In this club, the officers held the position for six months. My term was almost up and it was time for new elections.

The evening before the committee met to discuss the slate of new officers to be voted on, the Marine colonel’s wife called and told me that I could not expect to be nominated to run for president of the wives club because my husband was not of a high enough rank. I was astounded because the thought had never occurred to me. In fact, it rankled within me. The Colonel was the highest-ranking Marine officer on the base and the Navy counterpart was a Navy Captain who was in actuality in charge of the entire base. He outranked the Marine Colonel.

The following morning I attended the committee meeting. I was not angry with the Colonel’s wife, because it had never crossed my mind to run for president. I just didn’t like being told I couldn’t. The meeting went well and then the Navy Captain’s wife looked at me and said, “Bettye, we want you to run for President because we think you are the most qualified.” I didn’t dare look at the Colonel’s wife. I swallowed and said that I would consider it and let them know.

Of course I accepted the challenge and the Colonel’s wife attitude changed. During my tenure, I was nominated for Military Wife of the Year for the First Naval District and competing with nation-wide military wives of all branches. It was an honor to even be nominated.

What did I learn? I learned that by not reacting, that I was the winner. This was how I handled a put-down and jealousy from a woman. I have since realized that power is a two-edge sword. Power can be used to control and tyrannize or it can be used to lead. I would urge all women to think about this last statement. Do we lead our children, or do we use tyranny? In organizations and the workforce are we a leader or do we become a tyrant? I observed the Navy Captain’s wife and she was a leader and I honor her for what she imparted to me.

Yes, there was a flush of ‘success’ from this experience, but I was far from realizing my independence as a woman. There was more to come.

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